Can sucking CO2 out of atmosphere really work?

Can sucking CO2 out of atmosphere really work?

Physicist Peter Eisenberger had expected colleagues to react to his idea with skepticism. He was claiming, after all, to have invented a machine that could clean the atmosphere of its excess carbon dioxide, making the gas into fuel or storing it underground. And the Columbia University scientist was aware that naming his two-year-old startup Global Thermostat hadn’t exactly been an exercise in humility.

But the reception in the spring of 2009 had been even more dismissive than he had expected. First, he spoke to a special committee convened by the American Physical Society to review possible ways of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through so-called air capture, which means, essentially, scrubbing it from the sky. They listened politely to his presentation but barely asked any questions. A few weeks later he spoke at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in West Virginia to a similarly skeptical audience. Eisenberger explained that his lab’s research involves chemicals called amines that are already used to capture concentrated carbon dioxide emitted from fossil-fuel power plants. This same amine-based technology, he said, also showed potential for the far more difficult and ambitious task of capturing the gas from the open air, where carbon dioxide is found at concentrations of 400 parts per million. That’s up to 300 times more diffuse than in power plant smokestacks. But Eisenberger argued that he had a simple design for achieving the feat in a cost-effective way, in part because of the way he would recycle the amines. “That didn’t even register,” he recalls. “I felt a lot of people were pissing on me.”

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